This article is another installment of our Questionable Quotes (?Q) series, where we aim to take popular, commonly used quotes about the church, God, and the Bible and put them under the microscope to see if they really hold up to the truth.
Each of our Questionable Quotes to this point has dealt with some misconception people have created about God or the Bible because they don’t want to do or believe certain Scriptural things. This one, however, comes from a completely different angle. It’s not uncommon at all for Christians to get caught up in thinking that they simply can’t follow the Bible’s commands closely enough to be allowed into heaven.
In fact, I’m well acquainted with someone who left the church decades ago and has never returned, completely denying all belief in God now because at some point in her young life she determined that she could never be good enough for God and so it wasn’t even worth the effort. Why get up on Sunday mornings, spend time reading your Bible, be involved in the church, etc. if some sin is always going to be hanging over your head, she reasoned. While many have followed her path, still others sit in the pews every single Sunday and hear the lesson and worry that they won’t be able to do what they’re hearing well enough to be allowed into heaven.
I’m not here to condemn people for having these doubts. In fact, I’d guess that almost all of us have had these doubts along the way, and we can be reminded of that feeling of inadequacy at any time. And, I’m not here to tell people who struggle with these doubts that it’s ok, that someday they’ll get to a point where they can be assured that they’ve lined up their doctrines correctly and are doing enough good that they’ll finally have a feeling of peace with God and assurance of salvation.
No, instead I’m here to tell them that they’re exactly right. They aren’t good enough and never will be.
We all know that Romans 3:23 tells us that we all sin and continually fall short of God’s glory, but when we back up a few verses to 3:20 we see that no flesh is justified in His sight by works of Law. Continuing on, we pull 3:23, an incomplete sentence, out of its immediate context of 3:21-26. Yes, we’ve all sinned and continue to sin, but Paul wasn’t telling us that to make us feel worthless or not good enough. He said God’s righteousness has been given us apart from the Law and we’ve been justified as a gift by His grace, having paid for and passing over our sins by the blood of Jesus Christ. Romans 3:23 shouldn’t make us despair of our inability to be good enough, it should be a source of joy because it goes on to tell us of the gift we’ve been given. When is the last time you earned a gift? You don’t, and you can’t.
What this shows us is that there are two ways to say “I’m not good enough.” There is the negative way, to say it in a way that implies we can’t possibly go to heaven because we’ll never achieve some arbitrary standard of righteousness, and there is the positive way, saying, “I’m not good enough, I accept that, and I’m not even going to try to justify myself anymore. Jesus already paid for my shortcomings!”
We can learn a lot about the church and our teachings when someone says “I’m not good enough,” and some of what we can learn is that we’ve done a poor job of communicating two key Scriptural points. First, we have downplayed the magnitude of sin. One single sin is enough to separate us from God for all eternity. His standard of holiness is so far and above anything humans can accomplish, and His justice is so perfect that any thought of being “good enough” after we understand sin is just laughable.
Second, we’ve let incorrect teachings by men like Calvin and Luther rob us of grace. Just because the five points of Calvinism completely misunderstand grace (once saved-always saved, predestination, etc.) doesn’t mean we should run from it, but we have. The first thing we do when someone brings up faith or grace is go straight to baptism. Baptism is great, and baptism is essential, but we miss so much when we only take verses for what they DON’T say. Instead of trying to refute verses that mention grace, we need to see them for what they say about our sin and God’s love. “For by grace you have been saved by faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB). Before jumping to a verse about baptism, we need to pause and reflect on what that verse says. Yes, baptism is a part of the equation. Yes, good works should follow and confirm our faith (2:10, James 2:17). But what these verses are saying is that you can’t ever be good enough and yet you’re still saved by God’s grace.
1 John 5:13 tells us that we can know that we have eternal life, and that is by believing in the name of the Son of God. It doesn’t say you can know you have it because you’ve done and said the right things or because your good outweighed your bad. It’s simply because of Jesus that we can know. This doesn’t mean we’re without sin. In fact, John wrote in 1:8 that we’re lying if we say we have no sin. But, one verse later we read that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive and cleanse us from unrighteousness.
Dr. R.C. Sproul (admittedly, one of the men with whom I disagree on grace and salvation) tells a great, illustrative story about a time one of his college students admitted to doing something she shouldn’t have. She told Dr. Sproul that she had confessed her sin and asked for forgiveness repeatedly but still didn’t feel forgiven. She couldn’t get it off of her mind. His response? “You need to go ask God for forgiveness.” She responded, “Dr. Sproul, haven’t you been listening? I just said I’ve done that over and over and nothing has changed.” “No, I mean you need to ask God’s forgiveness for not believing Him when He said He would forgive you.” What a powerful reminder that the matter of not being good enough is simply a matter of believing God and taking Him at His word.
Whenever we feel inadequate, when we say “I’m not good enough,” we need to remember God’s promises. We need to remember that our sins are so great that if left to our own goodness they would never be defeated. And, we need to remember just how grace works in acknowledging that we’re anything but perfect and yet God still sees us as cleansed anyway. You’re not good enough, but God is. That’s not something to worry about, that’s something over which we should rejoice every single day.
By Jack Wilkie
Jack Wilkie is the editor of focuspress.org and author of “Church Reset: God’s Design for So Much More.” He also preaches for the Forney church of Christ in Forney, TX, where he, his wife, Allison, reside with their four children. You can find his full bio here.